I found a column written by my childhood pastor this week. My pastor, Bob Kesel, wrote these words for the Media Presbyterian Church newsletter in April 1990. Like all pastors, Pastor Kesel wrestled with how to preach a message of hope in a world with so few signs of it. What do you say to all those who come to church on Easter Sunday? Easter sermons don’t just preach themselves, meaning the empty tomb requires some explanation. What, exactly, is the hope that comes on Easter?
A church layperson once said that the one thing he wants to know about a pastor is whether or not she has suffered. I think those who stand to preach good news on Easter Sunday should have some experience with weeping and heartache for nearly every person who shows up will have had plenty of experience with both.
Bob Kesel was familiar with struggle. He was a veteran of the Korean War. I once heard him say that he didn’t sit in a chair for two years during his time serving the military in Korea. There were no chairs available to him in Korea, along with TV’s, cars and fast food. Rev. Kesel knew loss firsthand. His first child was born stillborn; and on a Christmas Eve, no less.
Pastor Kesel was a gifted preacher, a brilliant student of the Bible, and a skilled leader of people. He visited the sick and shut-in members of his large congregation faithfully and he offered wise counsel to those who sought his help. But the greatest strength of his numerous strengths was his deep and abiding trust in Jesus Christ—a faith that carried him day by day.
Here’s what my pastor wrote twenty-seven Easters ago in his Pastor’s Column:
“Easter is to our faith what water is the ocean, what stone is to a mountain, what blood is to our bodies. Ray Linquist, former pastor of the Hollywood Presbyterian Church, said that ‘Easter is the unique substance of redemptive reality. It is the first and final word in the dictionary of God. It says that Christ is the Author and Finisher of our faith, that He contains us because death could not contain Him . . .’
For me Easter is the only thing that makes sense out of life. Easter transforms ‘the foolishness of Christ’ into ‘the hope of the gospel.’ On an ancient Roman wall there is a cryptic scene chiseled by someone into the stone. It depicts three crosses: two men hang on the outer crosses and a jackass hangs in the middle. That is precisely what Calvary would mean, if it were not for the Resurrection. But on Sunday morning as Christians we will celebrate the triumph of Good over evil, life over death, righteousness over sin as we sing once again:
Christ, the Lord is risen today: Alleluia!
Sons of men and angels say: Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high: Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens and earth reply: Alleluia!